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Jim Kubiak: How Bills QB Josh Allen got Stefon Diggs involved, and about that late fumble

Jim Kubiak: How Bills QB Josh Allen got Stefon Diggs involved, and about that late fumble

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Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills

Bills quarterback Josh Allen loses the football in the fourth quarter Sunday at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park.

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for BNBlitz.com. Kubiak is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League, and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks are evaluated each quarter using a “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play that takes into account the quarterback’s responsibilities and outcome. 

Overview

Josh Allen completed 18 of 24 attempts for 157 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, a fumble and an interception in the Bills’ 27-17 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

Allen’s overall quarterback performance grade was 90%, in spite of a scary-looking leg injury in the first half and back-to-back mishaps in the fourth quarter that could have swayed the outcome.

Devin Singletary and Allen committed three turnovers in seven plays. Singletary fumbled at the end of a productive run, and Allen fumbled a snap and threw an interception into double coverage in three consecutive possessions to complete the unfortunate hat trick of critical mistakes. In the end, the Bills survived these almost insurmountable series of events to hold on. 

Coach Sean McDermott deserves credit for “righting the ship” in what was an important win for the Bills organization. Buffalo’s record improved to 8-3 and the Bills remain a game ahead of the Miami Dolphins in pursuit of their first division title in 25 years.  

Perhaps McDermott’s greatest attribute in this game was his consistent positivity, no matter what mistakes were made. We have seen this outstanding leadership characteristic when kickers miss, or Allen fumbles, or when players commit emotional penalties. McDermott doesn’t flinch; he doesn’t yell or lose his cool; and he doesn't blame. McDermott always claps and encourages, seeking opportunities for teachable moments as a good father would for his children. There is nothing more important to a player’s development and confidence than knowing their head coach has faith in him.

On Sunday, McDermott never faltered. He stayed the course in body language and demeanor and willed his team to believe it could achieve in the face of self-inflicted adversity.

First Quarter

Play selection: Nine plays  four passes, five runs.

Allen: Three for four passing for 10 yards, one touchdown and one sack. Two carries for 2 yards.

Performance grade: 100%.

Score: Bills, 7-6.

Allen took the Bills down the field on their first possession in five plays for a 7-0 lead. On the third play of the drive, he took a shot over the top with a post route to Stefon Diggs. The Chargers were in a four-deep coverage, and Allen tried to catch safety Rayshawn Jenkins peeking in on a shorter route. Jenkins broke the pass up with premature contact on Diggs. The 47-yard pass interference penalty resulted in a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Allen found Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone.

Allen’s play-action fake to the right, combined with the flow into the right flat, had most of the Chargers’ defense following. Knox came across the field from right to left, opposite to the play-action fake. Knox was not accounted for in the defensive scheme and was wide open and uncontested for the easy touchdown pass. This was nice play design and poor defensive awareness by the Chargers.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll established a balanced offensive attack from the beginning, rushing Zack Moss, Singletary and Allen equally. Daboll's commitment to the run paid off as the Bills rushed for 172 yards on 30 carries, averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry. Center Mitch Morse’s return to the lineup from a head injury and subsequent benching was evident as Buffalo’s lagging run game came to life.

Second Quarter

Play selection: 19 plays  11 passes, eight runs.

Allen: Six for nine passing for 53 yards. Three carries for 12 yards.

Performance grade: 82.4%

Score: Bills, 17-6.

The Bills’ offense took over on their fourth possession with 14:05 remaining in the second quarter. Daboll’s sensational screen call on third-and-8 made the difference on the drive.

In Daboll’s screen design, Singletary started out wide to Allen’s left in an empty formation. He motioned into the backfield to Allen’s left. The Chargers were in a six-man pressure, bringing two front-side linebackers, as well as Jenkins, the back-side safety. The beauty of the design was that Singletary slipped across the formation to Allen’s right for the screen. This sounds simple, but the act of starting in empty formation, then motioning inside, and then catching the screen on the other side of the field is genius. It caught the Chargers off-guard as they had not accounted for Singletary in their man coverage. 

Five plays later, Daboll injected some razzle-dazzle with a trick play that increased the Bills' lead to 14-6.

Daboll showed the Chargers a Cole Beasley motion they had not seen before. Initially, Beasley darted across the formation in what appeared to be a jet motion. Beasley then looped back around Allen to the side he started on. This had the Chargers’ defense frozen and unsure. The outside wide receiver to the right was Gabriel Davis. Davis came off the ball as if he was going to stalk-block the cornerback. This fake stalk-block action, along with the lateral throw to Beasley on the right, made it look as though the Bills were attempting a Beasley screen. The cornerback stopped his feet to attack Beasley and completely lost track of Davis, who was already in the end zone.

This was, again, a creative and highly effective double-pass concept by Daboll, who had studied and knew that the cornerback would aggressively attack Beasley on the perimeter.

Allen had nine carries for 32 yards in the game and no one would argue that his rushing abilities are not critical to the Bills’ success. For the most part, Allen utilized common sense, protecting himself as much as possible from unnecessary defensive contact, except in one notable instance.

On this first-and-10 play, Allen ran a basic zone-read concept. The offensive line was blocking zone to the left while Allen was charged with watching the unblocked defensive end, Joey Bosa. Bosa, who is an elite player, was in position to tackle the running back, so Allen pulled the football. Bosa recovered and wrapped up Allen. At this point in the play, most quarterbacks are taught to get as much yardage as possible and to get down. But Allen tried to throw the ball out to his outlet receiver, Davis, while Bosa was in the act of twirling him to the ground. Allen’s right leg was caught under Bosa while he was throwing. This combination of throwing while being wrapped in a tackle contorted Allen.

This one play could have cost Allen and the Bills the season had his knee or ankle been seriously injured. Allen walked off the field and was able to return after being out of the game for only one play. 

Quarterback runs cut both ways. They can be a damaging weapon against any defense because they add an additional blocker at the point of attack and require defensive coordinators to spend more practice time preparing for scrambles, quarterback sweeps and spontaneous, unplanned quarterback movements. It can be demoralizing to a defense, whose perfect coverage cannot account for an elusive quarterback. But I would argue that teams that utilize the quarterback run too much are creating opportunities for their quarterbacks to be in awkward positions as Allen was with Bosa. Plain and simple quarterback runs should be used like a conscientious surgeon uses a scalpel: to make precise and deliberate incisions to access the weakness. This risky play fortunately did not cost Allen the 2020 season.

Third Quarter

Play selection: 15 plays  seven passes, eight runs.

Allen: Six for seven passing for 39 yards, one sack. Three carries for 18 yards, one touchdown.

Performance grade: 99%.

Score: Bills, 24-14.

Though Diggs did not have a reception in the first half, Daboll and Allen made it a point to get him the ball early and often in the third quarter. Allen completed six of seven attempts in the quarter, connecting on five of those passes to Diggs. 

Daboll adjusted the Bills passing strategy in the third quarter by keeping Diggs short and underneath the Chargers’ coverage. In doing so, the short completions on first and second down had the Bills in a good rhythm, and in manageable third-down situations.

On the Bills’ opening drive of the third quarter, Allen completed four consecutive passes to Diggs.

Here, Diggs runs a simple hitch route to Allen’s right. Allen made it a point to get Diggs involved under the coverage. The offense methodically worked down the field, and Allen scored his rushing touchdown on another zone-read concept, this time away from Bosa, as Allen outran cornerback Michael Davis to the corner. Daboll used Diggs to crash down on the edge defender, leaving Allen in space with Davis.

Fourth Quarter

Play selection: 13 plays  four passes, nine runs.

Allen: Three for four passing for 55 yards, one interception, one fumble.  One carry for zero yards.

Performance grade: 78.6%.

Score: Bills, 27-17.

All the good effort the Bills had woven together in the first three quarters nearly unraveled in seven plays in the final quarter. The Bills had the momentum, having stuffed the Chargers on a fourth-and-1. Allen and the Bills offense had taken over with a 24-14 lead following the turnover on downs.

Two plays into the Bills’ drive, Singletary was stripped at midfield and turned the ball over to the Chargers. The Chargers capitalized with a field goal that trimmed the Bills’ lead to 24-17.

On the first play of Buffalo’s ensuing drive, Allen used his hard count to draw the Chargers into the neutral zone. Allen, knowing he had a free play, decided to take a shot to Davis down the left sideline. This was excellent awareness and a veteran decision on the part of Allen.

Allen, understanding that he had a free play, decided to push the ball down the field. It was a spectacular throw as he placed the ball on the outside shoulder of Davis with the perfect height to make it over the defender.

On the next play, disaster struck, giving the Chargers new life and an opportunity to tie the game with 9:46 remaining.

After much review of this play, it is apparent that Morse’s snap was deeper and wider than usual. The ball squirted to the right of Allen’s hands and onto the ground. Morse had a defensive tackle lined up on his right shoulder, and perhaps this could have affected his snap.

In any event, it was Allen’s responsibility to fall on the ball immediately. Instead, Allen tried to make up for the mistake and make a play that just wasn’t there to be made. The correct play for Allen was to fall on the ball and retain possession.

This careless reaction by Allen, trying to scoop up the loose ball, rather than to jump on it, could have cost the Bills a victory against a more organized opponent.

McDermott’s defense held the Chargers again from scoring any points on the drive and Allen and the Bills had another opportunity to seal the game.

On second-and-12 from their own 40-yard line, the Bills were in position to run down the clock, or perhaps get themselves in a third-and-manageable situation.

With a seven-point lead and 6:21 remaining, Allen needed to be careful with the football. On this play, Allen was surprised by the safety blitz as the pass rush forced him backwards. This drifting posture made it impossible for Allen to step into the corner route to Diggs. The Chargers’ cornerback, Davis, had cut under Diggs and had an easy interception on the poorly thrown ball.

Allen should have been thinking in more protective terms and should have tried to get the ball out of his hands sooner to a check down receiver underneath.  Instead, he was locked onto Diggs, attempting a knockout-punch, deep-corner completion. This was a mental lapse by Allen, who was playing reckless rather than playing the odds. The interception and turnover again gave the Chargers another opportunity to tie the game, or potentially win with a two-point conversion.

Fortunately for the Bills, Tre’Davious White intercepted Justin Herbert with 5:26 remaining.

This was the fourth turnover in the quarter. Daboll, Allen and the Bills’ offense held themselves together and were able to drive the ball down into Chargers’ territory, this time without incident. On third-and-19, Allen played the odds, and rather than trying to make a heroic play ahead by seven points, he completed a pass to Diggs on a short in route.

This wise decision put the Bills in position for a field goal and made it a two-possession game, 27-17.

Conclusion

The Bills’ turnover ratio was minus-2, having committed three turnovers to the Chargers’ one. To win a game while committing three turnovers is a rare occurrence in the NFL, where teams who win the turnover battle ultimately win the game 78% of the time dating back to 1950. There is certainly an argument to be made that the Chargers’ poor clock management and lack of situational awareness lost the game. It was, however, steady leadership from McDermott that saved the win in a game that could have slipped away. 

I would contend that McDermott’s steadfast belief and his even keel during the Bills’ desperate times in the fourth quarter were the difference. His positive leadership reminded me of a quote by John Paul Jones, the father of the U.S. Navy: “If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery.”

McDermott has cultivated faith in his Bills. He is continuously instilling their belief that no matter how many times they may fall, if they dust themselves and get back to it, they already possess what they need to prevail.

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